Apple’s Development Of iPhone X's Muscular A11 Bionic Processor Was A 3-Year Journey

Following months of rumors, leaks, and a mountain of speculation, Apple earlier this week finally unveiled its next generation iPhone devices, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X (pronounced iPhone 10). While the phones themselves are interesting for what they bring to the mobile sector, what is most impressive is the custom A11 Bionic system-on-chip (SoC) driving these handsets. Given Apple's history of designing burly SoCs, it can be easy to take for granted the performance gains, but there is a lot that goes into designing these slices of silicon. There is typically a three-year development cycle.

Let that digest for a moment. What that means is Apple started working on the A11 Bionic back when it was shipping its iPhone 6, powered by a custom A8 SoC. Sure, long development times are not unique to Apple. However, when you look at some of the features built into these chipsets, there is plenty of risk involved, as you have to predict what will be fashion 36 months in advance.

Apple A11 Bionic

"The neural engine embed, it's a bet we made three years ahead," Johny Srouji, SVP of Hardware Technologies at Apple, told Mashable in an interview.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning were obviously around back then, though they've become red hot technologies more recently. There has also been an increased focus on bringing those technologies down to a mobile level. From that perspective, it is quite the feat. Srouji attributes part of this to strong communication between and the foundries that actually build these SoCs to specification.

"The process is flexible to changes," Srouji said. When a team approaches upper management with a request that was not originally part of the plan, "We need to make that happen. We don't say, 'No, let me back to my roadmap and, five years later, I'll give you something'."

It also helps that Apple has been doing this from the beginning. From the very first iPhone a decade ago, Apple has been designing its own SoCs, and then building off existing architectures with each new generation.

"Every generation, we take the previous architecture, and—it depends on the building blocks—we decided either improve or start from scratch," said Srouji.

That is true of the A11 Bionic as well. Srouji was forthcoming about Apple's newest SoC building on many of the performance gains and technologies introduced in the A10 Fusion chip. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Apple, agrees with that assessment, calling the A11 Bionic a combination of design, architecture, and design changes. Some of them are completely new, others are updates to previous processor designs.

Both Srouji and Schiller had plenty more to say on the subject. Hit the source link when you have a moment and you'll very likely walk away with a deeper appreciation for goes into today's smartphones.